Grammy Get Flash-Proofed

With FCC Chairman Michael Powell threatening to slap fines on every CBS affiliate over the now-familiar Super Bowl breast incident, the eye network is sharpening the digital scissors for the "46th Annual Grammy Awards."

CBS announced earlier this week that it would do an "enhanced" tape-delay of the live Sunday, Feb. 8 event, and that network engineers were burning the midnight oil writing software to filter errant body parts out of the telecast. In the past, CBS employed a five-second delay to bleep out expletives. The enhancement would allow it to delete inappropriate video as well as audio from the broadcast, the network said.

"The new procedure, which is being coordinated with the Recording Academy, is being put in place to safeguard against any unexpected and inappropriate content being broadcast during the awards ceremony," CBS said in a statement.

Just exactly what the new procedure entailed, CBS did not say. The network neither returned phone calls nor e-mails, but a report in said the delay could be as long as five minutes. A five-minute delay would easily allow the production's tech team to do what's known as "Lexiconning," essentially cutting the nasty bits out of the video and stretching the remaining material to fit, or padding the next break. (The term comes from the original audio-correction boxes used for bleeping.)

Other networks have are following suit, with ABC initiating a tape delay for the Feb. 29 Academy Awards, and TNT adding a seven-second delay to its Feb. 15 NBA All-Star Game. (TNT's precautions come on the heels of NBA star Shaquille O'Neal using profanities in a live interview with a KCAL-TV reporter last Sunday.)

Meanwhile, Janet Jackson admitted to perpetrating the Super Bowl half-time stunt in which her duet partner, Justin Timberlake, ripped off a piece of her costume, exposing her breast, while the pair sang "got to have you naked by the end of this song." She apologized for the incident, but also claimed part of the costume was supposed to remain intact.

Her statement did little to mollify CBS and its affiliates, which face collective fines of more than $5 million if FCC Chairman Powell follows through on his threat. The fines, which would amount to $27,500 per station, could be 10 times that much if Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is able to push through legislation allowing such an increase. Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecom and Internet, has scheduled a second hearing on broadcast indecency for Wednesday, Feb. 11.

Ms. Jackson was summarily uninvited to the Grammys, where she was scheduled to be a presenter.

MTV, which produced the half-time show, was characteristically oleaginous about the incident. After having touted Jackson's performance as a "shocker" in a pre-Super Bowl promo on, MTV network group chief Tom Freston earnestly denied that MTV had any prior knowledge of the stunt. He also characterized the subsequent regulatory reaction as "an FCC investigation into the nipple."